It seemed like the perfect match.
Me, him, and a pandemic that forced us to spend four months getting to know each other.
In many ways it felt like an IRL version of Love Is Blind, the show where people get to know each other through opaque screens, often developing feelings before laying eyes on the object of their affection. I was spending lockdown at my parents’ house in Warwickshire, and he was in London.
For a while, I felt like a 19th century woman passing love notes to an interested suitor. It had all been a refreshing break from the exhaustingly fast-paced culture of on-demand dating apps and the requests to meet up the very same day as matching with someone. Here, I had the luxury of truly getting to know someone without the pressure of meeting up lest they lose interest and swipe on to someone new.
After months of non-stop messaging, lockdown restrictions began to lift and we decided to finally meet in person. My nerves were a mess on the day of the date, I was so worried there’d be no spark. Those fears, it turns out, were justified.
When we met, I didn’t feel that same connection we’d had over message. I felt silly that I had constructed an idea of a person in my mind that didn’t live up to reality. Perhaps I should have done a virtual date with him, but truthfully I felt too socially awkward and nervous to try that. But once that silliness subsided, I felt a huge wave of sadness. Dating in a pandemic brings a mire of complications — from being harassed by online matches wanting to flout guidelines and hook up, to knowing when (if ever!) it’s safe to actually kiss the person you’ve been messaging for weeks or months. Frankly, the prospect of diving back into the cesspit that is dating right now fills me with complete dread.
When I spoke to my therapist about how I was feeling, she told me I needed to treat it like a breakup — that my feelings of sadness were only natural after being involved (albeit over WhatsApp) with someone for four months. Prior to that, I didn’t really feel like I had the right to feel anything because the “relationship” essentially amounted to being someone’s lockdown penpal.
Now that restrictions are beginning to lift, people have been meeting up with the people they dated virtually during lockdown. And not all ‘turbo relationships’ were built to last. We’ve now entered the breakup phase of our lockdown love stories.
Not all ‘turbo relationships’ were built to last.
Maddie, who prefers to use her first name only, had been chatting online with a guy she’d gone on one date with prior to lockdown. But one week before restrictions lifted, she started to get the “ick” factor. “He booked an entire weekend in London, we met up and realised I didn’t fancy him at all!” she tells me. Maddie had fancied him on the first date, and that attraction grew the more they chatted over the next months. “But by the time it came to meeting up with him, I literally couldn’t stand to be near him,” she says. “Felt terrible but you can’t help how you feel I guess.”
Maddie puts her feelings down to not having “the whole picture of him” and not knowing him well enough. She feels that lockdown created feelings and an attraction that wasn’t actually there, and as soon as restrictions lifted, she didn’t fancy him anymore. “I think he realised I had become less keen and booked a whole weekend in London in an Airbnb which I felt was a bit forced and rushed,” she says. “He was very sweet and had clearly tried to be romantic but you know when you’re not feeling it and it can’t be pulled back.”
Allie, who prefers to use her first name only, also experienced a lockdown love fizzle. “At the very start of lockdown, back in March, I started dating this guy virtually and we spent over three weeks talking for hours every day on video chat and having virtual dates,” she explains. “We were both really excited to meet up but then lockdown was extended and we also had an argument that same week, so it fizzled out.”
The relationship didn’t end on good terms, sadly, but Allie still thinks about him. “We spent around three hours every night talking and we were both quite invested in it, with us both teasing each other about who would fall in love first.” Allie and her lockdown lover never met up in person in the end, which she feels quite sad about.
So, are we just unlucky in love, or is this genuinely A Thing? According to Match’s dating expert, Hayley Quinn, the pandemic has brought about a variety of different relationship types, and crucially, a breakup phase.
“Whether it’s the relationship of convenience that was struck up during social distancing, or the relationship that moved at light speed to ‘self-isolate’ together, with more freedom available in our dating lives now, we ask whether these relationships go the distance,” says Quinn. “Chances are if you developed a relationship out of circumstance more than choice, now will be your exit cue.”
“Chances are if you developed a relationship out of circumstance more than choice, now will be your exit cue.”
Some of the relationship types referenced by Quinn might sound familiar to a few of you. There’s the Extended Courtship, which is basically a good old-fashioned slow dating scenario. “Long video calls and socially distanced dates mean that courtship is back,” she says. Then, of course, there’s the Social Bubble Exclusive. “Forget asking someone to ‘go steady,’ says Quinn. “Now, it’s all about asking ‘do you want to form a social bubble?’” Then there’s the Distraction. “Whether it’s texting your ex or justifying that casual hook up with your next-door neighbour, relationships have been struck up to pass the time,” says Quinn. “Convenience, comfort, and ‘better the devil you know’ might seem like a good idea on a lonely Friday night but it’s important to steer clear of these short term fixes if you want to start something real.”
Not all lockdown breakups end in tears, though. Cristina, who prefers to use her first name only, managed to turn her pandemic relationship into something with a happy ending. “The one guy that I deemed my COVID boyf and I are basically meme sending friends now,” she explains. “We went on a bunch of walks and we used this dog that we met as an excuse to keep meeting up,” she adds. But in the end, the relationship felt more platonic than romantic. Cristina received a message from him essentially saying he just wanted “cool people to hang out with” in a friendship sense.
“It upset me at first, but then I really thought about if it were going to work out or if he was the type I was looking for and felt better,” says Cristina. She ended up going on a picnic date with someone else afterward and felt much more excited about that prospect. “It’s one of those, good for the time being (since we all love attention!) until something better (or in this case, more aligned to what I’m looking for) came along,” she says.
We are living through scary, uncertain, and lonely times. It makes total sense that many of us used lockdown to find long-lasting connection with someone else. Dating has always been hit and miss, so take heart, and don’t dwell too much. ‘Twas ever thus: You win some, you lose some.
WATCH: How to go on a virtual date during the coronavirus pandemic